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PDF The Battle for New Resources: Minor minerals in green technologies - RIETI


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Despite the importance of green technology for the future of global energy production, very few analyzes to date have described the geopolitical consequences of shifting dependence from traditional fossil fuels to an undefined mix of alternative energy sources. Yet the reality is grim: the world cannot meet the projected demands of green technology with its current supply of rare mineral resources. However, the reality is grim: the world cannot meet the projected demands of green technology with the current supply of rare mineral resources.2.

Over the past decade, Beijing has systematically begun to control the country's small mineral market through production and export regulations. Because of its size and its regulatory opacity, the growth of green technology in China will shape the industry. According to the US Department of Energy, the market dynamics affecting REEs (Rare Earth Elements) and other key materials essential to the commercialization of clean energy technologies are not captured by traditional economic models or simple economic analyses.22 As with predicting the future growth of green energy applications, the estimation of future resource use depends on assumptions about future government policy, technological progress and the state of the economy.

Increasing specifications, quantities and numbers of minerals required by suppliers add pressure on supply chains to meet the needs of green technology manufacturers. These practices put non-Chinese-based green technology companies relying on these minerals at a disadvantage due to supply risks. It takes years of on-the-job training for geologists and engineers to develop mining and processing systems.

Future geopolitical and market developments

What is most striking is that, despite similar analysis, the studies have very different mineral security issues depending on the assumptions of the authors (Chart 17). For example, China's investments in Sudan have given China greater political leverage in the country, and this has complicated the efforts of other countries to advance their agenda in the region. Corporation's rare earth processing facility in Malaysia avoids tighter regulations and opposition in Australia where many of the minerals are mined and in Japan where they are consumed.

For example, the more China or Japan invest in rare earth projects abroad, the bigger it is. available amounts of rare earth elements. The rich deposits of resources in certain countries could give their leaders too much influence. Saudi Arabia and Venezuela have developed an outsized role in world foreign policy solely because of the world's dependence on the oil and gas they produce. For example, Germany and Kazakhstan signed a $4 billion agreement to ensure German access to Kazakhstan's resources, including rare earth minerals, and to help German companies enter the Kazakh market.49 Human rights groups immediately criticized the deal.

Such bilateral agreements put pressure on other resource-dependent nations to make similar agreements, strengthening the leadership hand of resource-rich nations. For example, Japan has allocated more than $1 billion in funds since 2010 to reduce its dependence on rare minerals or find new supplies. It is part of a strategy to reduce reliance on some rare earth elements by up to 80% and minerals such as indium and platinum group metals by 50%.54 Such a focus on reducing reliance can make a nation more secure natural resources by reducing imports. but it is also a heavy-handed government.

For example, in November 2011, Molycorp, a US-based rare earth mining company, Daido Steel and Mitsubishi Corporation signed an agreement to open a plant in Japan to manufacture magnets for automotive and household purposes using minerals produced by Molycorp.55 In addition, . other downstream manufacturing companies acquire direct stakes in manufacturers. For example, Toyota Tsusho, a subsidiary of Toyota Motor Company, has committed to an equity stake. Molycorp, Daido Steel and Mitsubishi Corporation announce a joint venture to produce sintered NdFeB rare earth magnets.

Paradoxically, current concerns about the supply of rare earths are partly due to an attempt to reduce dependence on another crucial mineral. For example, Japan has reduced its reliance on the rare earth minerals cerium and lanthanum for glass polishing in the past year, choosing to rely on zirconium instead.63 But there are limits to using substitute minor metals or reducing the amount of a small metal. in a given application before it stops functioning.

Policies nations can develop to increase access to minor minerals for green technology To develop robust global supply chains to meet the increasing demand of minor minerals,

Luka Erceg, head of Simbol Materials, a lithium mining company, stated that because no university in the United States offers geothermal energy degrees, it has taken him nearly a year to find qualified candidates.68 Tokyo is also concerned about the lack of qualified geologists and mining engineers. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry noted in December 2011 that "the government will strengthen the human resource development system in cooperation with resource development companies and universities."69. In addition to training geologists, governments should continue to promote joint research projects with industry that reduce the mineral intensity of specific applications, such as magnets.

These agencies could benefit from additional funding for more analysis, while other governments need to improve or develop domestic agencies to produce market data. In addition, where possible, governments should find ways to link more closely with companies and research institutions. Xavier Lienhart, head of housebuilder Saint-Gobain Asia-Pacific in Japan, said: “It's much easier to put extra insulation in the walls of a house than to install a solar panel.”70 It's also less expensive.

Likewise, it is much easier for countries to make insulation than it is to ensure access to tellurium for solar panel production. Governments can develop tax incentives to stimulate domestic production; provide insurance to reduce risk for domestic and international mining investments; or help facilitate private investment in the mining sector by taking on debt or equity stakes in companies. Consumers can then use these rankings to make informed purchasing decisions regarding the product's impact on themselves, society and the environment.

Developed countries have some of the largest “reserves” of metals in use today, from hybrid vehicles to lamps, according to Hiranuma Hikaru of the Tokyo Foundation, who surveyed the Japanese market.71 Current recycling. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, in 2009 the US threw away 75% of the 2.4 million tons of electronics without any form of recycling.72 To reduce this waste, governments should consider safely stockpiling parts of computers, LCD screens and other products that contain useful elements. After the first oil shock in the 1970s, the International Energy Administration was created to develop a response to major disruptions in the flow of oil.

It is time for nations to start thinking about developing an international agency to ensure the smooth flow of natural resources between nations. The agency will also provide a forum for nations to discuss concerns over natural resource trade and investment issues.


Chart 1. China’s Minor Metal Production as a  Share of Global Production Percentage

Chart 3. REEs in a Hybrid Car

Chart 2. Selected REEs Prices (US$ per kg)

Chart 5. World Primary Energy Demand

Chart 4. Components and Rare Materials Needed for  Green Technology

Chart 6. Solar Power Projections to Meet Climate Goals

Chart 7. Wind Power Growth Projections

Chart 9. Facilities Needed to Power 1 Million Homes

Chart 13

Chart 14.  Increasing Capital Investment Costs in the Mining Sector

Chart 16. Production Location of Elements

Chart 15.  Medium Term (2015‐1025) Supply Risk of Selected Minerals

Chart 17. Comparison of Supply Risk from Various Sources

Chart 18. Overview of the Expected Dysprosium Supply and Demand for the Short Term   (2010–2020)

Note: Chinese production analyzes are based on historical production data from NRDC, CREIC and IMCOA; accordingly, while there is no certainty that future production in

The Cumulative Dysprosium Demand to 2050 for Various Scenarios

Chart 21. Japanese Imports of Rare Earths Products 2007‐2011 (gross tones)

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